As a Washington homebuyer, you might choose to purchase a newly constructed home with no prior residents rather than a home from a seller who has been living there for a number of years. Whether you buy a new or existing home, you want to be satisfied that the property is as you expect, and you have a right to know in advance about any material (important) defects that could affect your purchase decision. If a defect emerges that you were not told about before the sale, you may be able to take action against the seller – though the legal remedies differ for people who bought a new as opposed to an existing home.
If you purchase a newly constructed home and then discover a problem with the property that could only have resulted from an issue during its construction (say, the roof starts to leak within the first three weeks that you live there, with no apparent outside damage), Washington law provides that the builder may be legally responsible.
Before pursuing legal action, realize that many home builders provide a warranty on their work. If an item is covered by the warranty, you will need to pursue this avenue before filing suit. Check your contract with the builder for the details: You may be able to make a direct request to the builder for repair of a defect in your new home, and to request reimbursement for damage to your property.
If there is a defect in the new home that you purchased, such as the roof leaking or cracks developing in the garage floor, the builder might be responsible for paying to fix the problem, and even for the resulting damage.
First, the defect must have resulted directly from the improper or incomplete construction of the home, not a defect that has simply occurred in a new home. For instance, if your friends come over for your housewarming party and accidentally break your window, or if terrible weather strikes and a tornado takes off your roof, or if you become upset about these things and punch a hole in your living room wall, the resulting damage to your home is notsomething that the home builder would be responsible for.
If, however, your friends come over and, upon exploring, let you know that your basement has filled with water, this could be the result of a defect in the home’s construction, meaning the builder could potentially be held liable.
The amount of time that has passed between when you purchased the home and when the problem occurs is a factor in determining whether the defect is one for which the builder could be held legally responsible. In Washington, you must have discovered and filed a claim for the new-home defect within six years after the “substantial completion” of construction," or the termination of the builders’ services, whichever occurred later. Here, “substantial completion of construction” means the point at which the property could have been lived in as a home. (See, the Revised Code of Washington at RCW 4.16.310.)
You may not need to take your case against the builder to court. The first thing to try is to write a demand letter to the builder explaining the defect and requesting repairs or reimbursement. Even if the builder doesn’t respond, this letter will become useful evidence in any later lawsuit. See “Demand Letters: The Basics” for details.
If the matter ends up going to court, remedies that a Washington court could award as a result of a defect related to your new home’s construction are generally going to be directly related to the defect itself. For example, the court might order the builder to pay repair costs for the area of the home that was affected. The court may also award damages for personal injury or damage to other property, if this applies to your situation. It is important that you consult a local legal professional to discuss your specific circumstances.